My mother—God bless her—couldn’t carry through on many things. She couldn’t hold her temper, a husband, or a job. Maybe it was failing to marry my real father that made her so determined to never fail again at landing a husband. She made a vow even before I was born, that she would find me a father and make me legitimate. My older half-brother, Ronnie, had been born with a proper heritage: two married parents. Unfortunately, he also never got to know his dad, who died in the war.
My mother was never much of a parent at any stage of my life. But one thing she was able to do without fail was find men to marry her. Of course, no one knew what the future would bring when Howard and Veronica married, and I’m sure my mother wasn’t thinking that far ahead. All that mattered to her was that Howard was willing to marry her and legally adopt Ronnie and me. In her mind, the inherent evil of her illicit sexual experience with my father would be erased now that she was again married and I had a legal father’s name.
They were married when I was ten months old, twenty months after my conception. My birth certificate was to read “Veronica Dawn Nadeau Laskovitch Kelley.” In one act, a belated marriage, my mother had, to the world, redeemed herself from whoredom, redeemed my grandmother from having a bastard grandchild, and, of course, redeemed me from being the cursed bastard they all regretted.
I don’t think she ever gave a thought to what Howard might be hiding behind his coal-black eyes. No one thought about post-traumatic stress disorder in those days. A man just went to war, waded through his buddies’ blood and guts, killed the men who killed his friends, and then, without fanfare, came home and started a family. To the government and society, this was a simple sequence. No one considered the potential ramifications of witnessing the horrors of war. In Howard’s case, coming home also involved adopting two other men’s fatherless children. At the time, everything seemed just fine—at least, it did to Veronica. Howard not only made her “an honest woman” again, he also never initially appeared to judge her for her “sin.” There was even a bonus: he was the best lover she had ever known, a fact she disclosed to me many years later.
Howard was a short man with a board-straight back. But those eyes of his looked right through people, hauntingly, as if there were no soul behind them. He was just twenty-four years old in 1946 when he met and married my mother; he kept his agreement with her, and immediately adopted four-year-old Ronald and ten-month-old me. Two years later, my mother would bear their only child together, Russell.